Here are the Israelis we’re glad we met this year
Olympians, survivors, mavericks and clowns all made our 2018 list of the most inspirational people.
When we sat down for our initial editorial meeting at the outset of 2018, there was no way we could've known what lay ahead. How would we have surmised that a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster and a survivor of cancer would converge onto our list? How could we have predicted that a boys soccer team would find themselves stuck in a cave and that an Israeli entrepreneur would come to their rescue? Or that a 36-year-old Israeli woman would inspire kindness through an epic flash mob in 65 countries across the globe?
None of these stories were known to us at the beginning of the year. But, as we look back at the incredibly eventful past 12 months, their tales have made an impact on our lives. We're left in awe of the heroes, humanitarians and others we met. Below, 21 of our favorites...
After surviving the Chernobyl nuclear disaster as a baby, Inna Braverman made it her life's mission to find a new source of energy. She launched Eco Wave Power, a company that has figured out a way to take the energy from ocean waves and convert it into electricity. Her drive, passion and clever thinking have made her a celebrity. She's given a TED Talk and was named to Wired Magazine's list of “Females Changing the World." CNN chose her for their "Tomorrow's Hero" series and she was named one of the world’s “100 Makers and Mavericks." And along with Oprah and Michelle Obama, she was named one of the most influential women of the 21st century. "Passion is the greatest renewable energy source," she told us. "If you have passion I think you can achieve anything."
Smadar Harpak and Michal Korman
We're suckers for stories that make us smile – and this one came guaranteed to turn any frown upside down. Israeli clowns Smadar Harpak and Michal Korman launched the Clownbulance program with the goal of acting as a wish fulfillment agency. They offer sick children the opportunity to make one of their dreams a reality – whether that be recording a song in a music studio or shooting hoops with professional basketball players. Today, they have 100 clowns who work across 29 hospitals in Israel. And they're not taking a vacation anytime soon. "There is a long list of wishes waiting to be fulfilled," Harpak said.
For Orly Wahba, it all started with a dream. "I know it sounds really funny, but it's the truth," she told From the Grapevine. "In my dream, there were thousands of people. Everybody was dancing and it was amazing. And I woke up and I'm like 'Oh, my God I have to do this.'" And that's exactly what she did. She launched Dancing for Kindness, an epic annual flash mob event to inspire people to do good. Everyone who dances is given a "Kindness Card" that has an act of kindness printed on it like "Bring breakfast to your co-workers" or "Stick up for someone even if they aren't around." Once you're done performing the task, you pass the card onto someone else. The 36-year-old's TED Talk, which lays out her mission of being kind to people, has now been viewed nearly 30 million times.
Walter Bingham is an inspiration to us all. We can only hope to accomplish just a sliver of what this 94-year-old has accomplished in his long and storied life. He's Israel's oldest working journalist, hosts a long-running radio show and has appeared in two "Harry Potter" movies. So, what does a nonagenarian do next? This year he became the oldest Israeli to skydive. When he landed, Bingham said he hoped to do it again on his 100th birthday. “Breaking records is my latest hobby!" he exclaimed. Our wish for the new year? That we all share in Bingham's passion for life.
Oded Brenner is a modern-day Willy Wonka. In 1996, he launched a small chocolate shop called Max Brenner in Israel. That one location was such a success, he eventually expanded the concept to dozens of chocolate restaurants all across the globe – including in Israel, Australia, Singapore, Japan, Russia and in the United States.
But trouble was brewing, and Brenner was eventually ousted from the company he founded. He spent five years in exile planning his comeback. And in 2018, he finally returned. He opened a new chocolate shop in New York City called Blue Stripes. "Personally, it helped me to step aside for a second and look at my life," he told us when we visited his new restaurant. "To me, it was a good lesson to control my ego, to contain it in some way, to be a little bit more humble about success and understand that yes, success is beautiful. It's important. It's a drive, but it shouldn't completely turn you upside down."
When a dozen members of a boys soccer team and their coach got stranded and stuck inside a Thai cave this summer, the world's attention was riveted. Rescue workers and humanitarian aid arrived from at least six countries – including the United States and Israel. Helping with the efforts was an Israeli company called Maxtech Networks, which allowed for mobile communication in places where there were no cell phone networks.
As soon as they heard about the mission, employees from the company gathered all the necessary equipment and hopped on a plane to Thailand. The company's founder and CEO is Uzi Hanuni, a serial Israeli entrepreneur and alumnus of Hebrew University. "We haven't thought about nothing – just to save those kids' lives," he said in the ensuring days. Thanks to his efforts, and that of dozens of other aid workers, the boys were rescued after a grueling two-week ordeal.
When Michael Pasikov was holed up battling cancer at Hadassah Hospital in Israel, the then 55-year-old made a promise to himself. If he survived this, the former concert pianist was going to give back by performing 100 concerts for charity. Which he did. But then something unexpected happened...
One night, more than a year after recovering from cancer, Pasikov suddenly fainted in his home. He landed on his right hand, practically paralyzing it. When he finally recovered, he was unable to use his right hand – his dominant hand for playing piano. But Pasikov was not a quitter. He re-wrote famous classical compositions to be played one-handed. And he began giving one-handed concerts. "Life is every day moving forward and enjoying the day and the gift that you're given," he told us. "Every day is a life on its own. That's my attitude. That's my philosophy. It's not just that life is a certain span of years, but every day has a beginning, middle, end, and it's a complete life in itself." Very much like a symphony.
Yael Elfenbaum and Eyal Heyne Galli
The young Israeli couple picked up and moved to Toronto in September 2017, and have been documenting their journey ever since in a video series on YouTube called "Making it in Canada." The couple's chemistry oozes off the screen. Even their names – Eyal and Yael – are amalgams of each other. But unlike most posts on social media – where people show off their best assets in selfies and vacation photos – the couple instead attempts to show real life. "People have the opportunity to see the challenges that we are facing and feel that they are not alone," said Yael, who admits to never wearing makeup. "It's a big challenge for us to put a camera on all the time and document our lives. Editing the story of our lives is a way to deal with everything that I'm dealing with. I guess there's something therapeutic about it for me to deal with stuff through the footage that I'm filming."
The show is addictive and binge-worthy. After each 10-minute episode, you say to yourself, "Just one more," before clicking onto the next video.
Elinor Roizman was eating lunch at a restaurant in Tel Aviv this summer when her phone rang. The caller – a polite woman with a British accent – told Roizman that she had just won a Dog Photographer of the Year award. Roizman nearly choked on her salad.
"I was like 'No way, no way, no way!'" Roizman recalled. "I think that I told her 'No way' like 2,000 times during that phone call." That disbelief turned into tears of joy. "I started to cry, and I didn't know what to say to her. The British people are really polite and she just waited on the phone."
The woman on the other end of the line was from the Kennel Club, the U.K.’s largest organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the health and welfare of all dogs. It's believed to be the oldest kennel club in the world. The group hosts an annual dog photography contest, which attracts thousands of submissions from around the globe.
Her winning photo appears below:
The Israeli Winter Olympians
Israel sent its largest-ever delegation of athletes to the 2018 Winter Olympics, and the group of 10 athletes posted several record-setting performances. The results led the Washington Post to list the Mediterranean country 23rd out of 94 in a power ranking of all the countries that participated.
Itamar Biran became only the second Israeli man to compete in alpine skiing when he finished the men’s giant slalom. "My Olympic Games were incredible. I've had the time of my life and I will never forget it. To be able to call myself an Olympian is so honorable," he told us. And he's already got his eyes set on Beijing. "I will continue pushing as much as possible. The Olympics only made me more determined for what is to come. Now my focus is on the next Olympics. And this time, I will be going for gold."
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